Throughout what has become the longest postseason run in program history, 22nd-year Gahanna Lincoln High School baseball coach Mike Shade has reminded his players about focusing on the task at hand.
He has been reinforcing that more than ever the last few days after watching his team's next opponent, Cleveland St. Ignatius, dismantle Toledo St. Francis 14-0 in a Division I regional final June 2.
That Gahanna is only two wins from its first state championship isn't something Shade plans to let overshadow the fact the Lions must first play in a state semifinal at 7 p.m. Friday, June 7, in Huntington Park.
"Even being this close, you want the mindset to stay the same," Shade said. "You're playing the next game to win, and the reality is that the preparation is the same. I keep telling the players that you have to win the game you're facing. You don't have to beat everybody in the state."
Gahanna takes a 22-9 record into the matchup against St. Ignatius, which is 26-6 and will be making its 11th appearance in the state tournament. The Wildcats won the title in 2002 and were state runners-up in 2000 and 2008.
The winner faces Aurora or Cincinnati Moeller in the state final at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 8, in Huntington Park. Moeller was ranked second in the final state poll and is 28-2 while Aurora takes a 28-4 record into their state semifinal at 4 p.m. Friday, June 7.
St. Ignatius likely will start Tom Rolle or Nick Margevicius against Lions senior Alec Tuohy, who struck out six and went six innings to pick up the win in a 10-1 victory over Marysville in a regional semifinal May 30 at Dublin Coffman.
Rolle improved to 6-0 by allowing one run in 5 2/3 innings and striking out three in a 3-2 win over Avon Lake in a regional semifinal. Margevicius is a junior lefthander who needed to throw only 64 pitches against St. Francis while improving to 9-0.
Tuohy, who struck out 14 in a 7-2 win over Upper Arlington in a district semifinal May 20, recently was named district Player of the Year, according to Shade.
"It is unreal," Tuohy said. "I'm so excited and can't wait for the (state semifinal) to come."
The pitching of sophomore Mason Daniels and the hitting of Tuohy helped the Lions earn an 8-1 win over Hilliard Darby in the regional final that began May 31 and concluded the next day at Coffman.
Tuohy, who homered and had a sacrifice fly against Marysville, had a two-run double in the fifth inning against Darby to break a 1-all tie.
The Lions led 3-1 and had the bases loaded with no outs when the game was suspended. When play resumed the next day, senior Peyton Ross (LF), senior Trent Champlin (CF) and junior Zach Baumann (RF) all drove in runs in the fifth to make it 6-1.
Daniels, who likely will get the start in the state final if the Lions beat St. Ignatius, struck out four and walked five during the complete-game victory.
He also was the starter and winning pitcher as Gahanna beat Olentangy Orange 15-8 in a district final May 22 at Ohio Dominican.
"I was nervous for (the district final and regional final) but more for the district final," Daniels said. "We have Alec Tuohy who is more of a strikeout pitcher and I'm more of a contact pitcher. (Tuohy) has led the team the whole year. Coach Shade has been a big supporter and (Tuohy) just told me to throw strikes. Sometimes he'll help me compose myself on the mound. It's been really exciting the way the team has performed."
In addition to St. Ignatius' pitching duo, the Wildcats are led by senior shortstop Tyler Finkler, an Ohio University recruit, and senior second baseman Dan Rowbottom, who has committed to Illinois.
Against St. Francis, junior left field Nick Fabian went 3-for-3 with three RBI and Finkler and Rowbottom both were 3-for-4 with two RBI.
"They're a very good fastball-hitting team and they run the bases very aggressively," Shade said. "They did pretty much everything they wanted and (St. Francis) had nothing to stop them. They hit balls in the gap, one through nine, and from what I saw they've got good team speed and put pressure on you with their defense.
"Where we are right now and where we were earlier in the season, in the games we've gotten beat we weren't hitting the ball. Lately we've focused in and our hitters have been a lot more patient."